Rice and Respect
America has too often tried to dictate blunt and final solutions to the problems of free Asia. In a period of "competitive coexistence," changing events demand a foreign policy that is flexible in application as well as firm in its goal--a free and democratic Far East. President Eisenhower last week indicated a flexible approach that is particularly reassuring.
Dealing with China's imprisonment of 13 Americans on charges of espionage, the Administration was both moderate--in repeating the need for coexistence--and stern--in warning China that the U.S. could not forever tolerate such "outrages." The strong protest appeared especially temperate when contrasted to Senator Knowland's call for a blockade of China and the severance of diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union. The President's desire to avoid a shooting war should now be evident to the free Asian nations that want a long period of peace for economic development.
Along with this moderate approach to touchy affairs with China, there are indications of an even more important change in American foreign policy. While several months ago the President attached great weight to the formation of a Southeast Asia collective security past, the present recommendation of the National Security Council scents to be an increased program of economic aid. Liberation of China has become a realistic effort to help "liberate" free Asia from economic serfdom.
An expanded program of technical assistance and world development would certainly be more effective than military pacts. For efforts to stop Communism in Asia by rifles or H-bombs overlook the pride, nationalism, and hunger of most free Asians. Local landlords are much more hated by landless peasants than are distant totalitarian tyrants; bread and rice taste better than gunpowder. Present Soviet technical assistance also makes an expanded U.S. program necessary. The Soviet Union is giving China more than seven times the amount of money the U.S. now devotes to India, and free Asia looks with longing eyes at the rapid industrialization of the Chinese economy. Even more important, however, is the new Soviet offer of technical assistance to such nations as Afghanistan and India. These countries, which desperately need foreign capital, seem certain to strengthen their economic ties to China and the Soviet Union unless increased aid comes from the West.
More U.S. economic aid is important even for its own sake. The basic problems of food, education, and health would exist whether or not there were a threat from China, for the people in underdeveloped nations are determined to come abreast of the twentieth century. Anti-Communism is not sufficient; a positive, sincere approach to economic and human problems is needed in the form of such specific programs as India's village development plan.
Economic aid is certainly no cure-all. Although it should keep Asians from "going Communist," it certainly will not change their independent foreign policies. The revolution taking place in Asia is not only for rice: it is, even more basically, for respect. The President now seems willing to give Asia both rice and respect--a formula that should keep free Asia free.